Pinchas Zukerman Summer Music Festival at Cadogan Hall – 3: Royal Philharmonic Orchestra – Mozart’s final three Symphonies, 39-41

Symphony No.39 in E flat, K543
Symphony No.40 in G minor, K550
Symphony No.41 in C, K551 (Jupiter)

Royal Philharmonic Orchestra
Pinchas Zukerman

Reviewed by: Alan Sanders

Reviewed: 2 July, 2014
Venue: Cadogan Hall, London

Pinchas Zukerman. Photograph: Paul LabelleThere was perhaps a routine look about this programme. To have the last three Mozart symphonies one after another seemed a pretty unimaginative piece of planning. In the event it was an enthralling and most unusual experience. A modest-sized RPO assembled on Cadogan Hall’s stage, and as we awaited the arrival of Pinchas Zukerman thoughts turned to what kind of performances we could expect.

The answer came soon enough in the introduction to the E flat Symphony. Here was a grand, majestic, emphatic statement in a very deliberate tempo, from which the Allegro part of the first movement emerged sweetly and elegantly phrased. The reduced string section sounded warm and seductive, the woodwinds blossomed beautifully and it was like a nostalgic trip back to the glory days of the RPO under its founder and great Mozartean Sir Thomas Beecham. Beecham wouldn’t have observed first-movement repeats, which we heard here in all three Symphonies.

Tempos throughout were generally on the moderate side, though not as measured as those of Beecham or his Austro-German contemporaries in slow movements, the music allowed plenty of easy expression yet it also flowed naturally. An exception was the Andante cantabile of the ‘Jupiter’, for which Zukerman adopted a daringly sedate tempo. But it came off well, thanks to the conductor’s skill in maintaining a forward pulse in such unhurried circumstances, and the touching way in which he brought out the meaningful nature of the music. Here, though, an exposition repeat would have spoilt the mood of this particular kind music-making, and made the movement seem contrived and overlong.

Zukerman’s conducting was firm enough when there was a need for precise ensemble, but in general he gave his players plenty of room for self-expression. In this environment they flourished, especially during woodwind-dominated passages. At one or two points the conductor simply stopped beating and became an approving observer; elsewhere his baton movements described a long arc as he brought out felicitous points of detail. Overall this was elevated music making, an evening that was very special.

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